The story behind the latest new release from Brainworx is steeped in recording history. The unique custom compressor built for a London studio at a time when the tools we know and love were still in development turns up on ebay and finds its way to Brainworx who lovingly model it to bring something to the masses which they may not have heard of but they have definitely heard.
Opened in 1978 as an alternative to travelling out to Virgin's Manor studios in Oxfordshire, The Town House, or as it became know Townhouse Studios were in west London. Because of the stone room in studio 2 and its role in creating the famous gated reverb on Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" it is Studio 2 which is possibly the better known of the studios in Townhouse. Studio 2 was the home to one of the very earliest SSL consoles: A 32 channel Series B.
Studio A was equipped with a Helios console, probably because Manor studios had a Helios at the time. The Helios stayed in Studio 1 until 1984 when it was replaced by an SSL 4000E, the Helios went to the newly acquired Townhouse 3. This early exposure to the SSL bus compressor via the B series in Studio 2 must have fed the desire to have access to a similar bus compressor in the Helios equipped Studio 1.
Build Your Own SSL Bus Compressor
Although the SSL bus compressor was only available as part of a console (this is well before the availability of standalone units) The techs who worked at Townhouse at this time bought the necessary parts from Colin Sanders at SSL and built their own version to bring this valued feature of the SSL in Studio 2 to the Helios equipped Studio 1.
Not all the parts were available from SSL so they had to substitute alternative compatible components and it is this which makes this "SSL" compressor not quite an SSL. The sound is similar but noticeably different.
A Very Special eBay Find
After a spell at Matrix studios, the compressor was sold via Funky Junk and then surfaced on eBay. It was the buyer from this auction who approached Brainworx with a view to developing a plug-in.
I've been playing with this compressor plug-in for a few weeks and in tests it shows itself to do the same thing as an SSL bus compressor but in a slightly different way. It has a different tone and character. Watch the walkthrough video and listen to the audio examples.
In this video, I use the Townhouse bus compressor on the drum track from the mix on which it is used in the downloadable wavs below. Using it on drums allows some exploration of the less subtle end of the compression effects available. It does full-on well!
In the downloadable examples below, we look at the subtler end of the settings available. First is a premaster of the track with no bus compression applied.
Next comes some moderate compression. Up to about 4dB of gain reduction. 2:1 ratio, 0.3 attack and release is on Auto.
The first thing to listen for is how it introduces some nice "bounce" off the snare. Listen to the back of the snare hits, how it lengthens and adds body to the hits. To really appreciate these differences, download the wavs and AB between them in your DAW.
The second example is of some more aggressive compression, this setting really starts to eat into the dynamics, when the arrangement gets dense it's too much but the sparser section survives this treatment. This setting also uses a ratio of 2:1 but the attack is longer at 1 and the release is shorter at 0.3. Listen to how the compressor pulls too hard at 0.42.
In this file you can hear alternating sections changing on the downbeat. See the image for the order. After the intro each section is 4 bars in length.
What Do I Think?
I've used a modern hardware SSL bus compressor a lot in the past and I'll admit that when I first used them I was a little disappointed. I think it's because they are spoken about so much my expectations had been built up rather too much. I'm not sure what I expected but what I got was an easy to use, transparent bus compressor. Used sensibly this style of compressor shouldn't be shouting its presence and this cousin of the SSL compressor is no different in that respect.
What is different about this plug-in is its sound, it is very similar to an SSL compressor but it is definitely not the same. I've already mentioned the low midrange push it introduces. I've also noticed that it can narrow the stereo image a little when pushed. Perhaps this is where some of the perceived punch comes from. Download a demo and audition the sides channel through bx_solo. I think you'll hear the level drop under compression.
Brainworx are particularly pleased with the accuracy of the modelling in this plug-in, which I'm told nulls almost completely against the hardware, very difficult to achieve with dynamics processors. If you like SSL bus compressors then you really should try this one as its the same, but different and its very possibly better.